In its recent report on the status of retail-based health clinics, the Commonwealth Fund suggests that overall utilization remains low, but a recent slowdown in new openings may disproportionately impact uninsured Americans who lack affordable primary care alternatives.
Retail clinics are located inside supermarkets, pharmacies and retailers. They provide simple preventive services such as vaccinations and are equipped to diagnose and treat simple health conditions like sore throats and minor rashes.
They are usually staffed by nurse practitioners and remain open during evenings and weekends. Their fee schedules are easy to see and understand, and they tend to keep prices low. They work almost exclusively on a walk-in basis; no appointments are required.
The number of retail clinics exploded from 60 in mid-2005 to more than 1,100 by mid-2008, but virtually all this growth occurred in the first half of this period.
About 3.4 million families have used a retail clinic at least once. That’s 2.3% of all US families. There are wide variations in retail clinic utilization across states however. Minnesota boasts the highest utilization: 6.4% of families in that state have used retail clinics at least once.
Uninsured families (those with at least one member who lacks insurance) comprise 27% of retail clinic users. Overall, 17% of US families are uninsured, meaning that uninsured families use retail clinics more frequently than those with insurance.
Insured families report that half the time their carriers paid for at least some of the fees they incurred during a visit to a retail clinic. Fully 85% of retail clinics now accept insurance, a marked change from the cash-only business model that dominated just a few years ago.